Tresor’s little hands clutched the newly removed eye patches as he scrunched his eyes closed, refusing to open them even as a nurse’s gentle voice coaxed him from the darkness. It took a few minutes — and his mother’s whispered encouragement — before the four-year-old dared to slowly blink his eyes open. Immediately, his eyes spread wide. Wonder replaced fear as he reached for the toy car in front of him — something he hadn’t been able to see clearly just a day before.
‘One, two, three, four, five,’ Tresor grinned as he loudly counted his mother’s fingers. His mother, Larissa, held him close against her chest, letting out an audible sigh of relief.
‘Before the surgery, I was really scared because I wondered how his eyes would look — will they be normal? What will happen? Will he see again?’ Larissa said. ‘But afterwards, he could see colours and toys and I knew everything would be okay.’
Larissa first noticed that Tresor was having problems with his vision only a few months earlier. Her bright, rambunctious four-year-old began having difficulty reading and writing, and he tripped and fell more often when he was walking.
‘He’s a feisty, pull no punches, get-out-of-my-face little boy — at least in part because that’s how he survived,’ said Dr Glenn Strauss, the volunteer ophthalmic surgeon who operated on Tresor. ‘He had cataracts and very limited vision…Tresor was aggressive because that’s how he managed his environment. In the familiar, he did quite well. But what would happen at school when he couldn’t read or see the blackboard?’
For now, he could still clamber the cracked, rocky pathway to his house. He could still attend school and play with his best friend, Sammy. But it wouldn’t be long before his cataracts worsened and robbed him of these and any other opportunities ahead.
Watching her only child slowly lose his vision at such a young age was an agonizing experience for Larissa. She makes a living cooking and selling food at a local market — a job which requires long days on her feet. She always dreamed of more for her son, but his cataracts threatened to take these dreams away.
‘When I heard the news, I was so depressed,’ Larissa said sadly. ‘I felt like a part of me was dying because I know sight is one of the most important things in life. I couldn’t believe this would happen to my child.’
Unable to afford surgery to remove his cataracts, Larissa felt paralyzed. ‘I couldn’t think, I wasn’t eating. Every mummy wants to see her child be successful,’ she said. ‘I wondered, will he become a burden? Will he always need to be assisted? It wasn’t easy for me to think of him that way.’
After hearing about Mercy Ships from Tresor’s school teacher, Larissa brought her son to screening, and before long he was boarding the Africa Mercy for a pediatric eye surgery. Despite any initial fears, the quick, 20-minute procedure was a huge success, which was in part due to Tresor’s age and the early stage at which he was able to receive help.
‘Cataracts stop the development of pathways to the brain. The effect in kids aged 3-5 means it may take weeks for pathways to light up again after cataracts are removed. In cases where it’s been years, those kids might get improvement in quality but not in quantity. There will be continued improvement as he uses his ‘new eyes’ over the next few weeks,’ said Dr Strauss.
This reality highlights the monumental importance of pediatric eye surgeries. Countless cases of blindness could be remedied, eyesight restored, and futures changed if only more people had access to the kind of medical help they need.
Because of the medical intervention he received at Mercy Ships, Tresor was able to jump back to regular life quickly. In just a matter of weeks, he was back in school writing, reading, and playing without anything holding him back.
‘He can write perfectly now. It’s my joy because I want him to be successful and to be able to do better than I did. I want a better life for my child than I had,” Larissa said. “Now, I’m full of joy and comfort, and grateful that Mercy Ships came and gave healing to my child. I’m so happy.’
Written by Rose Talbot